Flip and/or Flop: Fallout from an MP Expense Audit

bellyflop“Bipartisanship” is just another word for ‘all-party consensus on how to gang-up on the people.’ This “bipartisanship” is a facade that can only stand so long as all parties see it as in their interest to maintain it. And thus is how the cookie crumbles.

“I told you so” would be the likely response from a child towards what appears to be a 180-degree flip-flop on allowing the auditor-general (AG) to examine MP’s expenses. ‘Kicking and screaming’ would also be an apt description of how MPs were brought to their expected – but still pending – decision.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has campaigned hard to have these expenses opened up to the AG and is recognized as a leader in this fight. This has been done through tireless advocacy in the media, an online petition with nearly 10-thousand signatures with a supplementary Facebook group and by alerting the CTF’s 74,000 supporters to contact their MP directly.

Ottawa’s “bipartisan” (or “multi-partisan” to be technical)  consensus about keeping the AG out of their business was only politically convenient so long as all parties stood in union-like solidarity, refusing to cross the picket-line and abandon their comrades to ever-thinner numbers. Ottawa-washed MPs saw calls for openness by the AG, CTF and several media outlets as having no traction, that their constituents were “not interested.”

The thousands of angry callers to talk-radio stations and MP’s office, emails to Parliament Hill and letters to the editor have pushed a few rouge MPs to realize that their political skins are best served by transparency, and not in solidarity with secrecy.

As the trickle of these independent-minded MPs became a small stream and with the Bloc having already tossed its hat into the good-guys corner (who’d of seen that coming?) the federalist parties have now been forced to “reconsider” their decision. It is the height of political theatre that Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff is now inviting the AG to “meet with the Board of Internal Economy,” after she already did so and was soundly rejected by all three federalist parties just weeks ago. Mr. Layton has made similar statements about speaking with the AG again after his party  publicly slammed the door shut on Ms. Fraser’s investigation. Now the Tories have a “secret plan” to provide greater transparency in MP expenses. Read that last line back to yourself again. No. Your not crazy.

It is too soon to jump to conclusions as to if the proposals now being discussed behind closed doors are sufficient enough to hold MPs accountable for past spending, or if appropriate measures will be put in place to ensure that future spending is transparent and open (as in posted in detail, online), but it’s not too soon to speculate as to what the political ramifications are and/or will be:

  1. A squandered political opportunity: Like previous audits in the UK, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, it is possible that there will be inappropriate expenses found from members in all parties. Because only the Bloc Quebecois can claim with a straight face to have supported an audit from an early stage, no other party will be able to wash itself from whatever might spray its way. Had for instance the NDP sided in favor of an audit when it had a chance to just the other week, it would rightfully be able to claim that despite any muck found, it was a willing partner in the push for openness. Because all federalist parties are only now (and still highly tentatively) coming around in favor of an audit, voters will see their revisited decision as being done so while kicking and screaming.
  2. Open space for parties currently without seats: Any party not weighed down by refusing to allow an audit has the potential to tap into a deep vein of discontent, regardless of its ideological bend. Cue the Green Party. Whatever its far-out (or is that groovy?) policy suggestions, it – like the Bloc – can claim to be fresh and untouched. Western MPs should be particularly sensitive to perceptions of MPs representing Ottawa to the people, as opposed to MPs representing the people to Ottawa. Reference the UK Independence Party in 2009’s EU “parliamentary” elections.
  3. Lower voter turnout: Yes, I’ll play that card as well. Everybody with a bone to pick with public policy makes the claim that [INSERT GRIEVANCE HERE] will further reduce turnout on e-day, but widespread perception (or reality) that there exists little or no difference between parties will do just that. Reference Ontario conservative voters in the 2003 and 2007 provincial elections.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. The details of the “secret plan” to make MP expenses more transparent are not yet known and so we should not be too eager to declare victory, but we can take three lessons from the whole ordeal:

  1. With only the rarest of exceptions, any politician or party will become disconnected from the people that they represent when they are in Ottawa for too long;
  2. When all or most parties agree on something, be very suspicious; and that
  3. Organized citizens can make a difference and wake politicians from their stupor if they rise up loudly and smartly enough. And yes, that was a shameless sales pitch for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

In the end, it is inevitable that MPs expenses be made public. The only question is how much fight it would take to make them so. Despite the adolescence of it, taxpayers are justified in saying, “I told you so.”

SociBook del.icio.us Digg Facebook Google Yahoo Buzz StumbleUpon